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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

The Bird Man of Mule Creek State Prison

It's never too late to have a change of heart

Published 07/17/09
By Monica Engebretson, Senior Program Associate

Six feet tall
220 pounds
Shaved head
Tattoo-covered arms
Inmate

Not the image that first comes to mind when you hear “tiny bird defender” is it?

When I received a letter at Born Free USA stamped “Prison Generated Mail, Mule Creek State Prison” I didn’t expect it to be call for help on behalf of swallows — tiny birds that build mud nests often on the sides of buildings.

But that’s exactly what it was.

According to the author of the letter (an inmate), prison staff had been in the practice of destroying active nests which resulted in the destruction of viable eggs, and possibly chicks, much to the distress of the devoted parents who were helpless to save their homes and families.

The anguish of the swallows and the injustice of their plight touched the heart of a self-described “tough guy” so much that he began speaking out about it and contacted Born Free USA for help.

In response, I sent a letter to the prison warden informing him of humane ways to discourage swallows from nesting in unwanted areas and that, in addition to any humane concerns, swallows are protected by state and federal laws which prohibit killing or destruction of active nests.

I also responded to the inmate and provided him a copy of the letter sent to the warden as well as a copy of our Born Free USA magazine, Animal Issues Digest.

A few weeks later, I received a letter from the warden informing me that proactive action had already been taken by issuing a memo to prison staff detailing appropriate protocol for dealing with swallow and their nesting activity.

I also received another letter from the inmate informing me that 12 nests had been saved. He had become quite unpopular with several of the officers for speaking out, and endured some teasing from fellow inmates, but to him, it was worth it.

He wrote:

Ten years I have watched these birds/swallows struggle to make and keep their nests, this year being the worst of all. Knowing this is my last year incarcerated, I wish there was more I could do for the future of these birds ... perhaps these swallows have rehabbed me more than these four walls. I have spent hours just watching these birds, and perhaps true freedom is found in our wildlife when left to be free.

He also reflected on the information he read in the Born Free USA magazine and commented that he now has something important to stand for and hopes that he will be able to do more to help the animals when his sentence is over.

Those tiny birds touched his heart, and his words and his actions have touched all of us here at Born Free USA and reminded us that anyone can have a change of heart and that together we can change animals lives for good.

Blogging off,

Monica

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